The mountainous province of Sfakia extends from the Omalos Plateau down to the southern coast, and has some of the island’s most spectacular landmarks, including Samaria (sa-ma-ria) Gorge, the Lefka Ori (White Mountains) and Mt Gingilos (2080m) in the rugged interior. The memorable drive from Hania to Hora Sfakion – descending through the mountains on numerous loop-back turns overlooking the sea – is one of the most stunning sights in Crete.
The stark, muscular Lefka Ori meet the Libyan Sea along Crete’s corrugated southwestern coast indented with a handful of laid-back beach communities, such as Frangokastello and Loutro. Hora Sfakion is Sfakia’s main village, and a small outpost, perfect for relaxing and boat-hopping further down the coast. Sougia and the larger Paleohora, west of Sfakia proper, are also some of the best places in Crete to unwind. This rocky southern coast is arguably the least changing place in Crete – thanks to the massive cliffs running to the sea. Some of the villages and beaches are accessible only by boat and therefore completely untouched by mass tourism. You can walk or boat-hop to perfectly isolated little coves or soak up the majestic scenery and fragrant air on a scramble through wildy romantic gorges. The gorges, including famous and busy Samaria Gorge, slice through the mountains to the coast. Samaria Gorge, for example, ends at the beach village of Agia Roumeli.
Summer winds blast through the gorges and across the Libyan Sea which means there is often good windsurfing to be had, especially at Paleohora.
The interior of Sfakia is known for being the only part of Crete never subdued by the Arabs, Venetians or Turks. It was the centre of resistance during the island’s long centuries of domination by foreign powers, and its steep ravines and hills made effective hideaways for Cretan revolutionaries. The Sfakiot people are renowned for their proud fighting spirit and strong culture, and they have a colourfully tragic history of clan vendettas. Their local cuisine includes the delicious Sfakianies pites (thin, flat cheese pie drizzled with honey).